Congolese nun who helps survivors of violence wins yearly award

Sister Angelique
Brian Sokol
Sister Angelique

A Congolese nun who works with women abducted, raped and beaten by the Lord's Resistance Army is being honored by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the way she has transformed their lives, the international refugee agency announced today.

Sister Angelique Namaika is the winner of this year's Nansen Refugee Prize for helping more than 2,000 women and girls to recover from their trauma. The women have often been ostracized by their families and communities because of the abuse they have suffered.

"Sister Angelique works tirelessly to help women and girls who are extremely vulnerable due to their trauma, poverty and displacement," said the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres.

"The challenges are massive, which makes her work all the more remarkable - she doesn't allow anything to stand in her way."

The 46-year-old nun works in the Democratic Republic of Congo's northeastern province of Orientale, where since 2008, an estimated 320,000 people have been force to flee from violence, in some cases several times, the refugee agency said.

Through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, which she co-founded in the town of Dungu in 2003, Namaika assists the women in learning a trade, starting a small business or going back to school.

"It is difficult to imagine how much the women and girls abused by the (Lord's Resistance Army) have suffered," Namaika said in a statement. "They will bear the scars of this violence for their whole lives. This award will mean more displaced people in Dungu can get the help they need to restart their lives. I will never stop doing all I can to give them hope, and the chance to live again."

The $100,000 award, established in 1954, recognizes extraordinary humanitarian work on behalf of refugees, internally displaced or stateless people. The winner, in consultation with the international refugee agency, is to use the money for a project that complements their work.

One of the survivors of the violence, a 42-year-old mother of 12, lives with her pastor husband in a settlement for displaced people, according to the refugee agency.

Three of her children, two sons and a daughter, were snatched by soldiers in the Lord's Resistance Army, a militant movement that operates in Uganda and Sudan, while the family was attending a funeral. Her 12-year-old daughter was raped and required three months of medical treatment to recover.

Her sons were taken into captivity and she believed them both dead until the oldest emerged but with his hand amputated. She attends cooking, baking, sewing and literacy classes organized by Namaika.

Another survivor was abducted when she was 14, raped and later rejected by her family after she was rescued.

"She was planning to go back to the bush because she was not able to reintegrate in the community," Namaika said. "I took her with me and taught her bakery and sewing."

The announcement of this year's prize coincides with the release of a report about life for those displaced by the Lord's Resistance Army. The report, produced by the refugee agency and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, looks at why violence has created such severe and long-lasting trauma for both the abductees and the hundreds of thousands of people still too afraid to return home.

Namaika, who herself was displaced by the violence in 2009 while living in Dungu, works in an area where electricity, running water and paved roads are scarce. She lacks proper tools and resources, the agency noted in announcing the prize.

"These women's lives have been shattered by brutal violence and displacement," Guterres said. "Sister Angelique has proven that even one person can make a huge difference in the lives of families torn apart by war. She is a true humanitarian heroine."

She will receive the Nansen Refugee Award and the Nansen Medal at a ceremony in Geneva on September 30. The event will feature a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by British singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.